Reading the long title poem of Geoffrey G. O’Brien’s third collection, Metropole, we drift off from the page and begin to think of some memory or image from our lives, and then, a page or two later, we are shocked when our own idea arises in the poem. Likely this phenomenon results from some association we share with the poet, but what “Metropole” seems to suggest is that this shared association is formal: “You’d need a failing light to understand this sense a form preceded me by several seconds passed without my noticing.” (Forms live, even unnamed ones, because they are collective.) Metropole is both new and not: elements of O’Brien’s earlier work come to mind—the experimentation and ambition of Green and Gray, the associative capacity and sprawl of The Guns and Flags Project—but they either manifest themselves in significantly new ways, or are brought up by their absence. The experiments of Metropole are metrical, rhetorical and syntactical, and subtler than those in Green and Gray. That book’s “They Met Only in the Evenings” didn’t let us forget that its tercets were constructed from the Patriot Act. But by the third or fourth of “Metropole’s” 137 paragraphs, we stop thinking about the fact that the sentences are written in iambic prose;  we are simply marched forward by their relentless effort. Or, in the opening poem, “Vague Cadence,” we think of form, but in what way we can’t quite say:  

An away of practice the other is
Like a river out of acts the other is
Hapless, unheard, with marks upon him
Having dallied in tarrying unwisely

The meter is irregular, but we hear control: a vagueness intended. And when the titles announce their method—“To Be Read In Either Direction,” “Failed Catalog,” “Poem Beginning To End,” “Dizzy Procession”—the effect is never to point out the novelty of an experiment, but to orient us toward where the mind is at work. These poems are sharp, honest, brushed free: not even an appeal for our attention stands in the way of what we can perceive. “Poem With No Good Lines” most directly avoids providing the immediate aesthetic reward a reader might expect. The lines of each quatrain are disconnected from each other, but independently satisfied, which heightens the flatness (when was flatness ever heightened before?) of each break:

It runs down my arm and into my hand
I can’t wait till you get here next week
Otherwise why give it to us
And were told to go back inside

What is the goal of a poem with no good lines? Defining the term “non-poetry,” Oren Izenberg writes of “an art that does not merely lack aesthetic ‘splendor’ in some degree, but . . . negates the very idea of aesthesis as the privilege and destination of poetry.” What, then, is the destination of Metropole? Perhaps, it’s us with whom the poet reveals connections—often implicit and formal, as in “A part of speech without a name”—that are new only in that we hadn’t been able to see them before through all that beauty.

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